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What He Built

2 Mar

SeniorsSenior Night sneaks up on you. It does. Believe me, I know.

Tuesday is the last night Kansas State fans will see Rodney McGruder, Martavious Irving and Jordan Henriquez play in Bramlage Coliseum. All have contributed greatly to this year’s team, but most of the focus – and understandably so – will be on McGruder.

In a time of transition, McGruder has been a constant. Looked to by his teammates as a leader, McGruder quickly bought into the system of first-year coach Bruce Weber and his staff. Weber is fully aware of how crucial McGruder’s cooperation was to the progress of this year’s team and the success the Wildcats (23-5, 12-3) have captured so far.

“When you’re the face of the program – which he is, I don’t think that’s saying something out of the realm of the truth – for him to buy in and really just right from the get-go accept what we believe in and what we do and not really rebel at all – if anything he just jumped on board, and that was so important,” Weber said. “You’ve got to appreciate that.”

Unlike some of the other (and younger) players, McGruder never wavered on the question of whether to stay at Kansas State after former coach Frank Martin’s departure to South Carolina. He had to see what could happen in Manhattan.

“I fought here for three years, and I think that would have been messed-up to leave what I built in this program,” McGruder said. “I wanted to finish what I started.”

Not surprisingly, all the other players followed suit. Now the team is tied with Kansas for first place in the Big 12 with three games remaining in the regular season. The senior class now has more wins (97) than any other class in Kansas State history, and Weber is tied for the most wins ever by a first-year Kansas State coach (23).

McGruder will hold all kinds of records at what will shortly be his alma mater, but that’s not what people will remember. They’ll remember the way he floats in the lane, the way he knocks down free throws, the way he drains 3s, the way he took ownership of a program going through a major transition. Mostly, if they read a little bit about him, they’ll remember the way he always had faith in what he and his teammates could accomplish at Kansas State, even after the departure of the popular, successful, fiery Martin.

“When that happened, a lot of stuff is going through your mind,” McGruder said. “You don’t know what to expect. When Frank first left, you didn’t know who your coach was going to be, but then the program went into Bruce Weber’s hands, and you saw the things that he accomplished at Illinois. You knew that big things could happen because I knew we were a pretty good team last year, but we had some plays that slipped away from us, so I knew that we could be good, and Bruce has proved that this year.”

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Wildcats advance to championship round of NIT tournament

22 Nov

Kansas State squeaked by Delaware 66-63 in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, and No. 4 Michigan emerged victorious from a similarly competitive game against Pittsburgh, 67-62.

As a result, the Wildcats will have a top five opponent on the books in just their sixth game of the season.

Undoubtedly, Friday’s game against Michigan will be a challenge, but Kansas State coach Bruce Weber sees it as a great opportunity.

“If you want to be good, you have to play good teams and learn,” he said. “You’re going to play good teams in the Big 12, there’s no doubt about it.”

In Wednesday’s win over Delaware, the Wildcats got 12 points each from Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson. Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell both added 8.

Spradling also contributed seven assists and zero turnovers. The Wildcats shot a magical 12 of 14 from the free throw line, good for 85.7 percent, which included outstanding efforts from Rodriguez (6-7) and Spradling (4-4).

Of course, as might be expected with such a close final score, the game was not all roses.

“We did not play pretty,” Weber said. “That was pretty obvious. It had been so good for us at home, and we had defended so well, made shots, and the games came easy. Now it didn’t come quite as easy. We missed a lot of easy shots, made some mistakes defensively.”

Once again, the Wildcats survived in large part because of their depth. Though Spradling, Rodriguez, McGruder, Gipson and freshman forward D.J. Johnson separated themselves by playing at least half the game, nine players on the roster saw at nine minutes or more.

Weber has been giving nearly everyone significant court time to this point in the season, and it paid off Wednesday because he felt comfortable using those players against Delaware. Fresh legs make a huge difference, and that is something on which Kansas State have capitalized on multiple occasions.

“I want depth to be part of our brand,” Weber said. “If we can do that, that’s going to really add to an opponent trying to figure out who’s in there.”

The basketball Wildcats have operated largely under the radar early in the season because the football Wildcats have been so successful. Instead of the media microscope scrutinizing the first-year coach tasked with replacing the popular Frank Martin, the lens has been focused solely on the until-Saturday-undefeated season of the Kansas State team on the gridiron.

With the national championship in football no longer an option and a basketball game against a marquee opponent approaching, that may change.

However Friday’s game turns out, it will likely shape fans’ and pundits’ expectations and evaluations for the rest of the season.

Much for which to be Thankful

22 Nov

On Nov. 13, when the Kansas State men’s basketball team destroyed Alabama-Huntsville by 61 points, the largest margin in Bramlage Coliseum history, Chargers coach Lennie Acuff said something profound.

“It just shows you that everything you do isn’t based on basketball,” he said, “because it goes from one extreme to the other real quick.”

The night before that 87-26 defeat by the Wildcats, Alabama-Huntsville gutted out a 78-75 nail-biter against North Texas that came down to free throws.

The parallel between what happened to the Chargers between Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 and what happened to the Kansas State football team just a few days later is an easy one to draw.

Last Friday, the Wildcats only need to win out, and they have a clear path to the national championship, which would be the first time ever a Kansas State team would play for the BCS title.

By Saturday night, those hopes were all but dashed after the Wildcats were defeated handily by Baylor, a team that entered the game with a losing record and whose only conference victory came against KU.

So much emphasis is placed on sports these days, and central to that is an emphasis on winning. There is nothing wrong with that. Still, it is important to remember that a W-L record is not what truly defines an individual. Not even close.

Deep down, most people understand that, and it is a testament to coach Bill Snyder and the Kansas State football program that when asked about Thanksgiving on Tuesday afternoon, many players seemed to have a very firm grasp of that reality.

Needless to say, no one mentioned the W-L record.

“These guys are my brothers,” said center B.J. Finney, “and the family that we have here is incredible. I am just thankful again to God that we have been blessed with such good health and few injuries. We have kept a really good head on our shoulders, and I am just thankful for that.”

“It has been an incredible experience,” said kicker Anthony Cantele. “The most important thing to me is the friendships that I have made with these guys along the way. We always talk about family, and this is definitely a family atmosphere. That is never exaggerated. I am incredibly thankful. I could not be more blessed to be in the situation that I am and have these kinds of teammates.”

“It has been a great journey,” said linebacker Arthur Brown. “Just the process of growing together with the team has definitely been something that I will take with me and remember for the rest of my life. It has helped mold me as a person, and I think I will continue to grow and develop from here.”

“It is a special group,” said quarterback Collin Klein. “It is a group that has been through a lot through our time here. We have come a long way, and it is a group that we truly care about each other in a pretty special way as brothers would or family members would. We are still having fun, and that is important.”

Bruceketball Begins

10 Nov

New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber now has three games at Bramlage Coliseum under his belt. Friday night’s 85-52 win over North Dakota was the first official game for him at the helm.

You can read my full recap of that game here, but at the moment I just want to run down a few observations of the team to this point.

1. Kansas State has the makings of an excellent frontcourt. In Thomas Gipson and freshman D.J. Johnson, the Wildcats have strong, powerful guys who have an advantage securing position for rebounds and who can dominate in the paint with their back-to-the-basket moves. In Jordan Henriquez and Adrian Diaz, the Wildcats also have lean, long guys whose presence dissuades teams from even coming in the paint because they can so easily block such shots. Because of their height they are difficult to guard around the basket, and Henriquez has been working on a hook shot that makes him dangerous further away from the hoop too. Those four are going to present a unique challenge for Kansas State’s opponents this year.

2. The play of Angel Rodriguez is going to be so important to this team. The Wildcats could not open up a double-digit lead over North Dakota during the entire first half, much of which Rodriguez was sitting because of foul trouble. When Rodriguez returned after the break, he drained consecutive 3-pointers and slithered through the paint for a layup. Eight straight points. That sequence gave Kansas State momentum and turned the tide of the game. Weber said yesterday that the team goes as the guards go, and Rodriguez is obviously a huge part of that. He has all kinds of potential, but harnessing it consistently is easier said than done. Whether he is able to do so will determine how good these Wildcats can be.

3. The production of Nino Williams has been fascinating to watch. After hardly getting any time under former coach Frank Martin, he looked fantastic in both exhibition games, and he earned his first career start on Friday night against North Dakota. He promptly scored the team’s first points, and he snagged five rebounds as well. Williams may not start throughout the season, but he provides a nice jolt of energy for the Wildcats, so even if he comes off the bench, you can expect him to have a significant role this year.

Lineup still fluid after second exhibition game

4 Nov

In the words of Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, the Sunday contest against Emporia State was a typical second exhibition game.

While Tuesday’s contest against Washburn had players excited just to play against people other than their own teammates, Sunday’s matchup arrived with less hype, and so the intensity level suffered.

“It’s one o’clock Sunday afternoon, 70 degrees, people are still hanging out from last night’s great football win,” Weber said. “You’ve got to create your own energy.”

That did not happen enough, especially early in the game. Both teams started slow, missing shots, until an 8-0 run by Emporia State gave the Hornets a 19-18 lead with five minutes to play in the first half. Weber called timeout and made some substitutions – including D.J. Johnson and Thomas Gipson in favor of starting forwards Jordan Henriquez and Adrian Diaz.

“I told them, ‘Hey, I’ll try not to sub you on each mistake, but you do two or three mistakes or you don’t give the effort you need, you give me no choice but to make that decision,'” Weber said.

After the timeout, the Wildcats reeled off nine straight points to take a 27-19 lead. That was just the first segment of Kansas State’s 20-4 run the team compiled before halftime.

“Jordan and AD had some easy shots; they just didn’t finish them, and then they didn’t rebound,” Weber said. “These guys came in, [and] we didn’t make those easy shots early with them in, but they got rebounds and made the second attempt, third attempt or got fouled. … I think it was positive how they reacted.”

As with most exhibition, non-conference games, the outcome was a function of play in the paint. The Wildcats snagged 51 rebounds to Emporia State’s 26. They scored 28 points inside to the Hornets’ 8. They earned 21 second-chance points to Emporia State’s 5.

By the end of the game – which got progressively more out of hand as the Wildcats dominated the boards – Johnson had scored a team-high 17 points with 9 rebounds, while Gipson added 12 and 5.

Weber said so far he has kept playing time fairly balanced to see how everyone plays so he can get a lineup set. The underlying message is that the starting rotation is not solid. Anybody has a chance.

“It’s not set,” Weber said. “It could change at halftime. We have competition. I hope they realize that. Our staff is trying to make sure they realize you’ve got to be zipped up and hooked up, ready to go every time. Otherwise, we’ve got somebody else who will take care of business for you.”

Kansas State’s 2013 conference basketball schedule released

9 Aug

As much as it pains me to deviate from football talk at this time of year, the Big 12 released the conference basketball schedule for this upcoming season, so I couldn’t help extracting Kansas State’s 2013 conference schedule from the overall Big 12 list.

In keeping with the double round robin format, the Wildcats will play 18 conference games – one home and one on the road against each of their nine Big 12 opponents.

Kansas State will be featured in the 8:00 p.m. “Big Monday” slot on ESPN in back-to-back weeks, when it takes on Kansas in Lawrence on Feb. 11 and when it hosts West Virginia on Feb. 18.

The Wildcats begin and end their conference season with Oklahoma State, hosting the Cowboys in their Big 12 season opener on Jan. 5 and finishing up conference play at Stillwater on March 9.

After the Big 12 home opener, Kansas State takes on the opponents with whom it is least familiar as it travels to conference newcomers West Virginia and TCU for its second and third Big 12 games of the season.

As far as home games fans are most likely to mark on their calendars, the Wildcats host Kansas on Jan. 22, Texas on Jan. 30, Baylor on Feb. 16 and, of course, West Virginia in the Big Monday matchup on Feb. 18.

Below is the full Big 12 schedule for Kansas State in 2013.

Saturday, Jan. 5 – Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State – 12:30

Saturday, Jan. 12 – Kansas State @ West Virginia – 12:30

Wednesday, Jan. 16 – Kansas State @ Texas Christian – 8:00

Saturday, Jan. 19 – Kansas State vs. Oklahoma – 3:00

Tuesday, Jan. 22 – Kansas State vs. Kansas – 7:00

Saturday, Jan. 26 – Kansas State @ Iowa State – 12:30

Wednesday, Jan. 30 – Kansas State vs. Texas – 8:00

Saturday, Feb. 2 – Kansas State @ Oklahoma – 5:00

Tuesday, Feb. 5 – Kansas State @ Texas Tech – 7:00

Saturday, Feb. 9 – Kansas State vs. Iowa State – 5:00

Monday, Feb. 11 – Kansas State @ Kansas – 8:00

Saturday, Feb. 16 – Kansas State vs. Baylor – 6:00

Monday, Feb. 18 – Kansas State vs. West Virginia – 8:00

Saturday, Feb. 23 – Kansas State @ Texas – TBA

Monday, Feb. 25 – Kansas State vs. Texas Tech – 6:00

Saturday, March 2 – Kansas State @ Baylor – 6:00

Tuesday, March 5 – Kansas State vs. Texas Christian – 7:00

Saturday, March 9 – Kansas State @ Oklahoma State – 12:30

Dead Week Sports Briefing

1 May

The week preceding finals week is known on many college campuses as “dead week.” I am at a loss to explain the term because I have three papers due in the next three days, plus a rather complicated public finance assignment, so my pre-finals week is very much alive. I know this is the case for most students, so you will understand if I keep this update brief. That said, I tend to ramble. Here goes nothing.

Building

The most recent news with long-term impact is easily the commencement of the West Stadium Center project, an expansive renovation of Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The addition is estimated to cost $75 million and should be finished in time for the 2013 football season. It is entirely privately funded – no state dollars or tuition money used – and the school has already raised over $40 million. Kansas State broke ground on this monumental project on Saturday morning, before the annual spring football game. Looking at the bullet points of the project on kstatesports.com and subtracting the exciting adjectives, the addition is purported to include all the following:

  • 40 private Suites, 36 Loge boxes and 800 Club seats
  • A “Tailgate Terrace” for Ahearn Fund members
  • Student-athlete dining hall
  • Event space for game day entertainment and year-round meetings and events
  • A K-State Athletics “Hall of Honor”
  • Concession and restroom facilities
  • Ticket office and Cats Closet retail spaces
  • Potential office space for athletics and media relations staff
  • New press box
Truly, the project seems to be a whole new level of commitment to athletics on the part of the university. It is well known that fundraising has been at an all-time high under athletics director John Currie. In a speech before the groundbreaking, President Kirk Schulz tied the massive athletics-based undertaking to the academic mission of the university when he cited athletic success as a way to get the school exposure on a national level. He also promoted the West Stadium Center as a “visual rallying point” for the university, the first impression visitors will have of Kansas State University when they enter town from the northwest.

Basketball

Again, I have been largely distracted from sports by these pesky papers that are due in the next few days, but here is a quick recap of new head coach Bruce Weber’s hires to this point in time.

Assistant coach Alvin Brooks III – $150,000 for 2012-13

The 32-year-old is coming off a two-year stint as an assistant at Sam Houston State. Prior to that he served as an assistant and recruiting coordinator at Bradley. He also coached at the junior college level. He has a total of eight years of college coaching experience, and his father has been coaching for almost as long as his son has been alive. Brooks graduated from Midland College with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in athletic administration.

Bruce Weber press release statement about Brooks: “I’m very excited to add Alvin to the staff. One of my top priorities was to get someone with strong ties to the state of Texas and Alvin gives us that. He has developed great relationships with the high school and AAU coaches in the state during his time recruiting the state the past eight years. He also has great bloodlines with his father (Alvin Brooks II) being a very well-known coach in Texas.”

Strength and Conditioning Coach Jimmy Price

A former U.S. Marine, Price ran the Illinois men’s and women’s basketball strength and conditioning program and the nutrition program for the past nine years under Weber (2003-2012). He earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise sports science at Texas Tech in 2011 and worked under former head coach Bob Knight there from 2001 to 2003. The 34-year-old Texas native has accrued over a decade of experience as a strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist.

Assistant coach Chris Lowery – $210,000 for 2012-13

Lowery, who will turn 40 this July, has been coaching college basketball for 17 years. He spent the past eight seasons as the coach of the school from which he graduated, Southern Illinois University, and where he accrued a win-loss record of 145-116 (.556). Lowery worked with Weber at both SIU (2001-2003) and Illinois (2003-2004).

Bruce Weber press release statement about Lowery: “I’m really excited about Chris joining the coaching staff. He has been with me at both Southern Illinois and Illinois as an assistant coach and we have a great relationship, which is critical in building a staff. He is an outstanding recruiter with great ties to the Midwest and will be a huge asset in helping us to establish a great recruiting base. He also has the added experience of being a head coach for eight years at SIU, which is only going to help me on the bench. I look forward to K-State Nation getting to know Chris and his family.”

Football

The spring game proved about as scintillating as usual. When he approached the podium after the game, coach Bill Snyder cracked a smile and asked, “Has the paint dried yet?” Maybe the scrimmage is slightly more interesting than watching paint dry, but one would be remiss not to point out that it probably takes significantly longer, so that should be factored into the comparison. Anyway …

The first-team versus second-team format drives me batty because it is difficult to discern actual impressive performance of players when their competition is not what it will be in a real game situation. Understandingly, there are other non-competitive aspects to the spring game: many plays get whistled short of an actual tackle to limit the possibility of injury, some players are held out (Tyler Lockett) or played in a limited way (Tay Bender) just to make sure they do not aggravate a slight injury, and the offense is not allowed to check out of plays when the defense lines up correctly against it.

All that said, the final score was 77-7. As Snyder said, probably the biggest takeaway from this game is that depth of the team is not what it should be. However, he did say he felt the team has more leadership than it did last season, and he is proud of the leadership the team has chosen. The captains this year will be quarterback Collin Klein, center B.J. Finney, linebacker Arthur Brown and defensive back Ty Zimmerman.

Optimism is the Best Policy

2 Apr

Google "Kansas State basketball," and you will see the front page of the website dedicated to new coach Bruce Weber.

“Give me a chance.”

With that statement, Bruce Weber dared Kansas State fans to have some faith.

Weber began his coaching career back in 1979, so he has extensive experience in the business. In 2003 he had the difficult distinction of being Bill Self’s replacement, so this move to Kansas State will not be the first time Weber walks into a situation where many fans really wish the last coach was still there.

Widespread disappointment about the departure of Frank Martin is ironic in a sense, considering many fans were rather unhappy when the Wildcats made a head coach of the unproven coach five years ago.

If anything, Martin’s success should be a reason for fans to support Weber, at least until he gives them a reason to do otherwise. Another example of unexpected success has to be Frank Haith at Missouri; many were skeptical of him, and the Tigers went on to win the Big 12 tournament.

I understand being upset when a team is not winning, but no games have been played yet with Weber at the helm, so he should have a window of several months before any legitimate complaining by fans can occur.

Certainly it is a possible that Weber will be a flop. Maybe players will leave. Maybe he will not be able to recruit. Maybe the team will lose a dozen games or more.

On the other hand, maybe Weber will be a breath of fresh air after Martin. I will not say one is better than the other; I do not know either well enough to make any declarations on that. What is clear is that the two of them have vastly different styles. Their personalities are different. Maybe Weber’s personality facilitates better interaction and communication between coaches and players this season. Maybe that change translates into more wins than anyone would expect.

All I am saying is this: “I told you so!” is much more fun when the outcome you guessed was positive rather than negative.

Before last football season, I predicted eight wins. Obviously I undershot; the Wildcats won 10 games and went to the Cotton Bowl. However, other media members and fans were saying that seven wins would be optimistic; six would be realistic; and eight, well, that was the stuff of dreams. See how that season turned out? It was beyond the stuff of dreams, and it was pretty darn incredible.

***

Negativity is more interesting. It is more sensational. It draws more hits for a website, more views for a video. It sells.

What do you gain by being negative?

What do you lose by being positive?

Which sounds like the better choice to you?

Bruce Weber: History, Reactions, Updates, Etc.

2 Apr

About a dozen students gathered on the lawn of Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to protest Kansas State’s hiring of Bruce Weber as the next head basketball coach.

One student held a sign that read, “Why you do hate us John Currie?”

Others sported purple headbands inscribed, “Gott Lieb?” – an endorsement of ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb as a candidate and a play on the popular “Got Milk?” advertising campaign. Gottlieb, a former Oklahoma State basketball player, expressed interest in the head coaching position to newspapers and radio stations, and even though he has no coaching experience, his thorough plan and salesmanship intrigued fans.

Not shockingly, the administration hired someone with more of a history: Weber, a smiling, gray-haired gentleman many remember for taking Illinois to the national championship in 2005 but whose most recent team finished with just six wins in the Big 10 this season. Which type of results will Weber produce for the Wildcats is an intriguing question.

***

The initial response from fans has not been particularly optimistic, but few people could have replaced as popular and successful a coach as Frank Martin – and most of those coaches show no signs of being available for hire.

Weber is not daunted, however. His priority is winning over the players. He spoke with both 1350AM in Manhattan and 810 WHB in Kansas City about building relationships with one set of people whose opinions matter most.

“The big key is that I get them to trust me and respect me and buy into it,” Weber said. “If you can get your best player to buy in and be your best leader and hardest worker, it makes it so much easier for you as a coach.”

After talking to next year’s seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez, Weber also had conversations with this season’s freshmen. He noted the importance of Angel Rodriguez, who played point guard for Kansas State much of last season. With such conversations, the coach said he makes his pitch but does not press for a commitment.

“I don’t bring it up, to be honest,” Weber said. “I just say, ‘This is what we’re about. We want you here.’”

At this point, he believes all the players will stay. He has done individual workouts with everyone except McGruder and Rodriguez, who will be unable to practice for two to three weeks because of injuries. Because getting to know players is one of Weber’s top priorities, changing public perception is on the back burner.

“I realize I can’t win all the fans over,” Weber said. “I have to do it with a good product, and that starts with the players. That’s the most important thing.”

Asked about previous problems within the program under Martin, Weber responded with the proper amount of ambiguity and proceeded to compliment his predecessor.

“He did them his way – sometimes it isn’t always the most positive thing,” he said. “He created a culture of toughness and defense, and hopefully we can play off that.”

***

The other priority of Weber in this time is putting together a coaching staff. Weber said he invited Martin’s associate head coach Brad Underwood to stay at Kansas State as part of the new staff, but Underwood told him Saturday morning that he thought he would be going with Martin to South Carolina. Weber said Underwood gave him insight regarding the program and the players, and Weber left the door open in case Underwood had a change of heart.

Weber has said he is working to finalize a deal with Chris Lowery, who coached under Weber at Southern Illinois and followed him to Illinois before returning to become the head coach for Southern Illinois, where he led the program for eight seasons before being fired after the Salukis went 8-23 in 2011-12.

***

Weber has been in the business for 33 years. His first gig as an assistant, at Western Kentucky, came in 1979-80. For the next 18 seasons he worked as an assistant at Purdue.

In Weber’s first year as a head coach at Southern Illinois, the team went 15-12 and tied for a fifth-place conference finish. In his fifth and final season there, Weber guided the team to a 24-7 record and first-place finish in its league.

Replacing Bill Self at Illinois, Weber coached nine seasons there. In seven of those, the team won at least 20 games.

The Fighting Illini struggled in 2011-2012, going 17-15 and 6-12 in league play to finish tied for ninth in the conference. Weber cited the team’s youth (six freshman, one returning starter) as well as changes in the administration (new university president, new athletic director) as potential reasons for the season that was his second-worst in nine years at Illinois and resulted in the termination of his contract there.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Weber said. “You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about who your friends are. So many people have reached out to myself and my wife … and just said how much they appreciate and respect and believe in what [we’ve] done.”

As for what he learned from his time at Illinois – and presumably this last season in particular – Weber said that trying to please everybody is impossible, so there is only one manner in which to proceed.

“Do it your way,” Weber said. “And that’s what we’ll try to do.”

Players, Weber look forward to getting in the gym together

31 Mar

Martavious Irving is not particularly worried about those who criticize the hire of Bruce Weber as Kansas State’s new head basketball coach. The senior-to-be is just waiting for the season.

“Once we start winning, I don’t think it’ll be a problem anymore,” Irving said.

Illinois, where Weber coached from 2003 to 2012, finished ninth in the Big 10 conference last season and ended the year on a 2-12 slide. Weber attributed the struggles there to a young team – “six freshman and one returning starter” – and the disheartening effect of one close loss after another.

Point guard Will Spradling seems to be buying into the coach’s potential.

“He’s got four championships; he’s got two Big 10 championships and two Missouri Valley championships … he’s a winner,” Spradling said. “Last year he might have just had a rough year. Everybody kind of has those years. I’m excited to have him as a coach.”

As is obvious from those comments, Spradling will not be transferring, as some reports had previously indicated. While it sounds like he considered leaving, and although he said “it helped a little bit” that Frank Martin is no longer the coach, Spradling said he thought he would have stayed at Kansas State regardless.

“I needed to just think about the season and about what I needed to do to improve, but I never really felt like I wanted to leave Manhattan at all,” Spradling said. “I love K-State. This is where I want to be.”

Like Irving, Jordan Henriquez will be sticking around for his senior year. By his account, Weber made a positive first impression.

“Just by him speaking to us, speaking to me, I know he’s a great guy,” Henriquez said. “Just watching him as I was growing up, a Final Four team, I know he’s a great coach.”

Players will work out with the new coach for the first time on Monday. Weber said he looks forward to getting to know the players and see how he can help them improve. How those initial interactions play out will likely determine how many players stay and how many will go.

“First thing, I met with them as a team and tomorrow I will meet with them as individuals and we will get on the court on Monday,” Weber said. “Slowly but surely the way to develop a relationship is one-on-one. You communicate and talk with them to show them that you care … and get to know them as a player and as a student.”

Building trust is important for Weber, but he hopes to have at least one staff member who already has the players’ trust. He said he wanted to retain at least one current Kansas State assistant coach who knows the lay of the land and has existing relationships with players.

“I have done that before when I went to Southern Illinois; I kept the Rodney Watson. When I went to Illinois I kept Wayne McClain,” Weber said. “They stayed the whole time while I was there and both are great friends and people that have become very good coaches. I think that is a possibility, and hopefully I have a chance to sit down with them whether it is Brad (Underwood) or any other former players.”

In the meantime, the players appreciate the speed with which the administration conducted and completed the coaching search.

“It’s better than sitting around for a bunch of weeks where we’re not doing anything,” Spradling said. “It’s nice to know that we get to go into the gym and work out with the coach on Monday instead of going out and working out on our own because it’s not the same.”